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'Tree of paradise' repels fever, yields butter

 Move over neem and tulsi, the 'tree of paradise' is ready to take the herbal world by storm and give energy guzzlers a new bio-fuel to burn.

Simarouba Glauca DC, or laxmi taru as the tree has been christened here, is being promoted by horticulturists, agro-scientists, holistic health hubs and practitioners of traditional Indian medicines across the country as the latest wonder tree whose edible, therapeutic and other utility values may outweigh those of common medicinal and edible herbs found in India.

 The plant which grows up to a sturdy five feet in height is also an effective environment cleanser as its cultivation rejuvenates marginal and waste land by absorbing and neutralising harmful greenhouse gases and helps reduce global warming in the process.

 The Bangalore Agricultural University has been pioneering studies on the simarouba since last year under professor Shyam Sundar Joshi.

 "The oil content of the plant is one of the highest. The seeds of laxmi taru yield nearly 70 percent oil, much more than the jathropa plant that contains around 40 percent bio-fuel," said Ramakrishna Muley, director, Sri Sri Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Bangalore.

 "It has to be treated with five to 10 units of crude oil or diesel energy to get a very high quality bio-fuel that can serve as an alternative energy source.

 "But at this moment, we are just extracting edible oil from laxmi taru, which is on par with sunflower and mustard oil, and probably much better," Muley said.

 Each full-grown tree yields nearly 15-20 nutlets (pods) equivalent to five kg of oil. It works out to roughly to 1,000-2,000 kg of oil per hectare annually, say scientists.

 The plant also yields a refined butter, which, according to experts, tastes better than the butter churned from milk.

 The institute has planted nearly 500,000 simarouba saplings in the country with the help of state governments, forest departments and the local governing bodies.

 "The plant is multi-utility, no part of it can be wasted. It is an effective fever-repellent," said B.P. Rath, a Bangalore-based organic farming expert, who went to Mayurbhanj district in Orissa to study the healing properties of laxmi taru cultivated locally by tribals in the region.

 "Our studies showed that none of them ever suffered from fever because they used simarouba (Laxmi Taru) oil for cooking," he said.

 Medicines (tablets) made of simarouba extract were effective in battling the chikungunya fever in Karnataka last year. It is also an effective cure for gastritis, ulcers and diarrhoea.

 For the health buffs, the tree offers a new beverage that is in no way inferior to the colas and fruit beers sold in the market, say agro-scientists in Bangalore. The pulp of the tree contains 11 percent sugar and can be used to prepare squash, beverage and fruit jams. The pulp does not require external colouring and flavouring agents because of its natural colour and flavour. The pulp also produces ethanol.

 The bark of the tree, which takes five years to grow, is an effective fuel, which can be made into briquettes in the charcoal industry. The timber is of a hardwood variety that is used for furniture and wooden toys.

 The Sri Sri Institute has already applied for a patent of laxmi taru products.

 At the village level, the plant is cost effective as its farming is nearly zero-budget and completely organic, yielding 100 percent returns for almost 70 years - the average lifespan of a full-grown tree. The cost of growing one simarouba tree is barely one rupee.

 "The tree, which first came to India from central (Latin) America in 1960, can be grown anywhere from the sea coast to elevations of 1,500 feet in tropical climatic conditions. Not many people were aware of its potential till last year," Muley said.

 States with a high rate of farmer distress owing to crop failures are switching on to commercial cultivation of simarouba.

 "We first planted simarouba in Maharashtra in 2002 under our social forestry programme. It germinated fast and thereafter recorded rapid growth. We are now planning to grow it in every district and even on land that has seen crop disasters. It will reduce farmers' dependence on institutional credit and free them from the debt cycle," said B.K. Mohan, chief conservator of forest of Nashik division in Maharashtra.

 The Maharashtra government will sell "processed simarouba food products" in the forest food marts it plans to set up across the state under its sustainable development and agriculture projects aimed at environment protection and tribal welfare.

 IANS

Last modified on Sunday, 12 May 2013 17:38
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